Best Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

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Hearing aids are an investment in your hearing health, but the hefty price tag might not be in your budget. Traditional in-office hearing aids may come at a considerable cost, with some brands charging up to $4,000 per device. To expand consumer access to hearing aids and improve affordability, the FDA is proposing a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

This proposed rule to establish OTC hearing aids would generate potential cost savings for consumers with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. OTC hearing aids would not be bundled with professional services and not require professional advice, fitting, adjustment, or maintenance.1 Keep in mind that the creation of a new over-the-counter hearing aid category hasn’t been finalized. The SeniorLiving.org team of experts will continue to update our OTC analysis as the FDA releases it.

The good news is there’s no need to wait until the FDA finalizes its OTC hearing aid regulatory requirements! There are currently over-the-counter hearing enhancement devices (not hearing aids) available, along with FDA-registered online hearing aids that can be purchased from the comfort of your home. Unlike over-the-counter hearing aids, online hearing aids include advanced features and support from a dedicated hearing care team. And the affordable price point of online hearing aids makes it possible for older adults with limited income to properly care for their hearing. Let’s dive into which OTC hearing enhancement devices and online hearing aids surpassed the competition.

How We Chose the Best OTC Hearing Aids

Our top four over-the-counter contenders for mild to moderate hearing loss were chosen with great consideration. We evaluated a variety of criteria, including cost, battery life, features, and warranty. While the products look like over-the-counter hearing aids, they’re technically electronic devices that offer a range of hearing enhancement features. These four devices stood out when compared to the FDA’s draft OTC hearing aid legislation.

Because OTC legislation is still being finalized, we also included a list of our top picks for FDA-approved hearing aids that can be purchased online. We evaluated various criteria, including functionality, battery life, remote care, warranty, and cost. These hearing aids will be more affordable than traditional hearing aids and come with support from audiologists. All of the devices on our list will only be suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss.

What Are Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids can make a world of difference in the quality of life for people with hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can lead to isolation, and it has been associated with serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dementia, reduced mobility, and falls.5 Unfortunately, conventional hearing aids can be very costly, and not everyone can afford the doctor visit, let alone the devices. This is where the FDA’s proposed over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids may come into play. OTC hearing aids will be for individuals aged 18 and over who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss. These hearing aids won’t require a hearing exam, an audiologist’s review, or approval from a medical practitioner. Reduced costs are anticipated as OTC hearing aids will be stand-alone and won’t come with additional services or support.

In the video below, Jeff Hoyt, Editor-in-Chief of SeniorLiving.org, speaks with audiologist Brad Ingrao about the FDA’s proposed over-the-counter hearing aid act and how it could help millions of Americans.

OTC vs. Online Hearing Aids

A goal of the FDA’s proposed over-the-counter hearing aid category is to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable. However, there are a few important considerations to be aware of, as you would most likely be responsible for:

  • Determining the level of your hearing loss and your hearing needs
  • Selecting and purchasing your hearing aid
  • Setting up and programming your hearing aid
  • Troubleshooting your hearing aid should it malfunction

In comparison, online hearing aids are registered with the FDA. Even though you don’t require a visit to the doctor or a prescription to purchase online hearing aids, these aids are dispensed through audiologists. When purchasing online hearing aids, you’re not just receiving a hearing aid. You’ll receive services like:

  • An online hearing test
  • Personalized programming based on test results
  • Telehealth support with an audiology team
  • Remote adjustments
  • Financing options

Pros and Cons of Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

Still unsure whether over-the-counter hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss will be right for you? Let’s take a moment to weigh the potential pros and cons based on what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released to date.

What We Like About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

  • Affordability. The FDA’s OTC hearing aid proposal aims to reduce hearing aid technology costs. This could be a game changer for seniors on a fixed or low income as hearing aid pricing is a major consideration.
  • Ready availability. Over-the-counter hearing aids would be available direct-to-consumer. You won’t need to wait for a doctor’s approval or a fitting appointment.
  • Simplicity. OTC hearing aids will likely come with limited features, making them a viable choice for individuals who aren’t interested in complex features.
  • Smart choice for new hearing aid users. Over-the-counter hearing aids may offer a quick and easy solution to help you become more familiar with your hearing needs.

Things to Keep in Mind About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

  • They’re not for all levels of hearing loss. According to the FDA proposal, OTC hearing aids are for those who have perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. If your hearing loss is more profound, you will need a prescription hearing aid that offers more functions, features, and controls.
  • They’re not custom-fit. Unlike brands like ReSound and Starkey, which offer custom hearing aids based on ear size, shape, and structure, over-the-counter hearing aids will not be professionally molded to your ears. This “one-size-fits-most” method may result in an uncomfortable or incorrect fit.
  • The quality may not meet your expectations. A lower quality over-the-counter hearing aid may not deliver a seamless hearing experience. OTC hearing aids most likely won’t come with assistance from an audiologist, making it challenging to troubleshoot if your hearing aid malfunctions.

Things to Keep in Mind When Purchasing an Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid

If the FDA’s new hearing aid category is approved, purchasing an OTC hearing aid may be as simple as stopping by your local drugstore. However, shopping can be a bit tricky if you don’t already know what to look for. To help you out, we’ve put together an explanation of a few important criteria to consider as you evaluate over-the-counter, online, and prescription hearing aid options.

Battery Life

Whether you’d prefer a traditional battery-powered hearing aid or a rechargeable model, your hearing aid is only as good as its battery life. It’s essential to find out how long your hearing aid will last. No one wants their hearing aid to lose power in the middle of a conversation!

Warranty

Small but mighty, hearing aids are built with tiny electrical parts. So, what happens if your hearing aids stop working? A solid warranty ensures that the manufacturer can repair or replace your hearing aid at no additional cost within a specific time frame.

Size and Weight

You’ll likely spend many hours wearing your hearing aids, so choose a lightweight device for optimal comfort. It’s also critical to consider how your hearing aids will fit, feel, and look. Are you in the market for a discreet, practically invisible hearing aid, or would you rather have one that is larger but easier to operate? Consider these questions as you explore your options.

Volume Control

Not all over-the-counter hearing aids offer complete volume control. This key feature allows you to “tune in” the volume to fit your situation (e.g., louder in noisy environments, softer in quiet environments).

Inside Tip: Overwhelmed at the number of online and medical-grade hearing aids to choose from? Check out our best hearing aids list for the inside scoop on top-ranked hearing aids and their standout features.

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Written By

Dr. Ruth Reisman

Audiologist

Ruth Reisman, AuD MBA, is a licensed audiologist and hearing aid dispenser in New York state and is certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association. After serving as an audiologist in the New York downstate hospital system, Dr. Reisman led the… Learn More About Dr. Ruth Reisman

Citations
  1. Federal Register. (2021). Medical Devices; Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices; Establishing Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2021). Hearing Aids and Personal Sound Amplification Products: What to Know.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it.

  4. Otofonix. (2022). Compare Hearing Aids.

  5. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2021). Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids – Who are OTC hearing aids for?